Coinage A Significant Reading

Features Issue 207 Feb, 2019
Text by Srijana subedi

In the beginning of human civilization, people had to fulfill their necessities through their own labor. In the course of time, the practices of barter system came into being, but a drawback was that, it requires the coincidence of the respective needs of the parties concerned. Therefore, in different stages in the development of civilization, the need for a permanent and satisfactory method was gradually felt.

The cow, or cattle, often seems to have been regarded as a unit of wealth, and a commodity could be purchased in exchange for a cow, the quantity of the things being determined by the number and value of the animals. But it was difficult to buy small things, which would cost much less than a cow.  Due to such difficulties, society introduced metallic pieces as coins. A coin is a piece of metal having fixed shape, weight, and recognizable face impression of a responsible authoritative figure. In its infancy, we find various kinds of coins with carved inscriptions and pictures, which are most important for understanding the art, economy, historic chronology, culture, religion, and politics of a nation.

In general, dates were inscribed on coins, as they indicated that period; especially in the history of ancient emperors or kings for recognizing their ruling period. Coins were made in a creative way, as many of the emperors, kings, or rulers wanted to show their power, strength, and wealth, as well as the actual state of their nation through religion, economy, society, and/or many other indicators inscribed on the coins. For example, images of Lord Vishnu are found on the coins and seals in the first and second century A.D. in India.

Coins have historical evidence to prove the chronology of dynastical rulers or emperors in different periods of time. The date and time, as well as the ruler’s name, inscribed on the coins, can help to know about their linked history, and thus, coins play an important role in the study of history of any particular country or region.


Origin and Development of Coins

The beginning era when coins were introduced and used is yet to be discovered by archaeologists. Even though numismatists don't know about the exact origin of coins, they believe that it originated in Asia. In 700-800 B.C., punch-marked coins were in use. The silver punch-marked coins have on one side, a group of five punches found in a large type of combination, while the reverse has one or more punches usually different from those found on the obverse.  In ancient India, there was a category of coins called karsapana, where one karsa was equal to 146.4 grains. The coins were made of gold, silver, and copper. The first coins were minted in the seventh century B.C. by the Lydians. These coins were made of electrum, a natural composition of 75 percent gold and 25 percent silver. They were about the size and shape of a bean, and were known as 'stater' or 'standard'.

The coins fall into two main classes—un-inscribed and unattributed, and inscribed or otherwise capable of attribution with some degree of accuracy to some particular period or era. There are no evidences of making of coins in Nepal before 500 A.D. Punch-marked coins were found during the excavation of Lumbini and Kathmandu Valley. The excavations in Tilaurkot during 1967-1976 revealed that the earliest coins recorded in Nepal are kushan, kaniksha, havisha coins (1st century), and the punch-marked coins (6th and 5th century B.C.). King Mandeva’s rule in the 5th century gave birth to the Licchavi coins.


Early Coinage of Nepal

The history of Kathmandu Valley begins with the accounts preserved in a number of chronicles, which mention that the Gopalas and Mahishapalas ruled the valley; which is not proved yet by any archaeological evidences. The Lichhavi period (496–880 A.D.) is considered as the beginning of written history of Nepal. According to the evidence, the first coins were introduced by Lichhavi king Manadav; he used copper coins named shreemananka, which were struck in copper. After that, different rulers issued several types of coins like gunanka, gisnuguptasya,  vrisha, shrayamshubarma, shrayamshu, maharajadhirajasya, vaishravrna, pashupati, etc.

On the inscriptions of Lichchhavi coins, like pashupati, we can understand that the king who issued it was a devotee of Lord Pashupatinath. Coins of Manadeva have a standing lion with the inscription Shree Mananka in Lichchhavi script on the obverse, with the figure and picture of Shree Bhogini on the reverse. 

 The coins of the Shah rulers of Gauda in Bengal (600–625 C.E.) mark a departure from the conventional pattern and show the use of Shiva with Nandi on the obverse in place of royal portraits, and Lakshmi seated on a lotus and holding a lotus on the reverse. The image of Lakshmi on the reverse side of the gold coins of shashanka is similar to the Lichhavi coins, which have Vogini inscribed on the obverse and Lakshmi on the reverse. Thus, we can say that the coins of Manadev were influenced by the Gupta coins in India. 

 The fact that Indian coins have been found in Nepal, and Nepali coins in Tibet, shows the trade practice that is in practice these days as well. The use of copper coins signifies a poor economic situation and the opposite with gold coins. The use of imageries on coins represents various religious practices. i.e. image of lion, the goddess Lakshmi on mananka, and trishul on pasupati coins are evidences of practices of Hindu religion in that period in Nepal.

Words, signs, symbols, and pictures on the coins show the lifestyle which is replicated on coins released in different periods. Through the depicted arts, cloths, jewelry, beliefs, name of the kings, queens, ministers, any other rulers, religion, political practice, and history on coins could help significantly to know about the cultural practice of the time when the coins were issued.   

The inscription of Shree Yogini on the coins of Manadeva give hints that women were worshiped and respected as goddesses at that time, and that the status of women was very good. They were aware on education, politics, and other relevant issues. Use of language and inscription on coins also give a way to understand about the education, language, literature, and other academic status of the period. Lichhavi inscriptions give us information on language and script used by the Lichhavi society of that period. 

In this way, coins are very important in the study of history, culture, religion, social status, economics, and political condition of various periods in history. The peacock embedded on punch-marked coins symbolizes the vehicle of the Mauryan Dynasty and Lord Shiva's son, Kumar. The pictures of swastika and stupa on the coins symbolize Hindu and Buddhist religions. Mananka, the coins issued by Lichhavi king Manadev, indicate that he was a brave and independent ruler.



Coins have great importance for the study of history, historic chronology, culture, religion, and economy of the past. The used words, languages, pictures, and symbols help us to know more about the political, socio-economic, and socio-cultural status, as well as of religion, clothing, ornaments, issued date, and other information.